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Bronco Stories

Check out the stories below to learn more about how scholarships have made a difference for WMU Alumni. Did you know that many of the WMU Scholarships awarded to students are made possible by donations from alumni and friends? Right now, students are facing uncertainties and obstacles that they never imagined, or budgeted for. WMU students, much like college students everywhere, are in need of scholarships to help them finish their degrees or gain experiences that will help give them the edge they need to compete for a job they will love. You can help current students in need by making a gift! Choose your impact here.

We would love to hear your story! If you received scholarships as a student at WMU, you know that they can help advance the educational experience in a variety of ways. To shed more light on what scholarships can do, we want to tell the stories of the Broncos who were helped by receiving scholarships first-hand.


Jennifer Komorowski (B.S.E.’18, M.S.E.’19)Jennifer Komorowski

Jennifer Komorowski received the Betty J. Georgeau Scholarship:

Two years ago, I found out that I had been blessed with the opportunity to finish my Accelerated Master's Degree in Industrial Engineering at Western Michigan University. As a senior industrial and entrepreneurial engineering student and in the accelerated master's program, I learned that I was the first recipient of the Betty J. Georgeau scholarship. The scholarship provided $20,000 a year for two years. One day during the summer semester, I scrolled through my school email and saw that I had won a scholarship. When I read through the email, I started to sob tears of joy, and I immediately called my mom crying over the phone. I felt very fortunate to have been selected from several outstanding students. I still have to pinch myself because it does not feel real that a girl like me could pursue her master's degree. To this day, I am honored to carry on Betty's legacy and her love for Western Michigan University. I am forever grateful for Phil Georgeau and his family.

Read more about Komorowski's story here

Mya HernandezMya Hernandez (P.h.D’19, Psychology - Behavior Analysis) 

Mya Hernandez received a travel grant from WMU, in addition to a scholarship from the King/Chavez/Parks Future Faculty Fellowship Program.

As part of the KCP fellowship, I received invaluable mentorship from an amazing professor in the Psychology department--Dr. Denise Ross. Dr. Ross continues to serve as a mentor and friend.

With the help of the travel grant, I was able to attend and present at our field's annual conference in Chicago. Normally, I would have only presented for one day, but with the help of the grant I was able to stay in the city for the entire conference and attend all days. The King/Chavez/Parks future faculty fellowship allowed me the funding to focus solely on finishing my dissertation without the burden of having to work to put myself through school and avoid taking out loans for my final year.

I am currently a full-time Psychology Faculty at Lake Michigan College. I owe my position to the excellent instruction, experience, and mentorship I received at WMU. I love where I work, my fellow faculty, and of course the students I work with. I am so thankful for all the opportunities WMU provided which prepared me to be in this position.

(The King ▪ Chávez ▪ Parks FFF Program was created by the Michigan State Legislature in 1986 as part of the larger King ▪ Chávez ▪ Parks Initiative. The purpose of the FFF Program is to increase the pool of academically or economically disadvantaged candidates pursing faculty teaching careers in post-secondary education.). 

Joshua Ayerdi (B.S.’17, Secondary Education: Mathematics and Spanish) Joshua Ayerdi

Joshua Ayerdi received several scholarships while at WMU: William Robinson Endowed Medallion Scholarship, Lee Honors College; Presidential Study Abroad Scholarship, Spanish Department; and the Colonel Charles E Bayliss Scholarship, Math Department.

The scholarships awarded to me during my time at WMU really set me up for success. I was able to graduate debt free and start my career without having to worry about student loan debts. I am extremely thankful for the Spanish Department, Math Department, and the Lee Honors College for selecting me as a recipient of their scholarships, as well as the countless donors to the University that made the scholarships possible. I know that my life would not be the same had I not received them.

Read more about Ayerdi's story here


Imelda ReyesImelda Reyes (B.S.’99, Nursing)

Imelda Reyes received an incentive scholarship.

I so appreciated having a full-ride scholarship for my WMU journey. I was able to complete my nursing degree with a minor in biology and Spanish. My financial aid allowed me to focus my attention on my studies and not worry about finances.

I was able to participate with the Hispanic Student Organization (HSO) and Sigma Lambda Gamma Sorority. I appreciated being able to focus on my leadership development and also the Presidential Search committee.

I teach full-time as a clinical associate professor at Emory's school of nursing and also as a pediatric nurse practitioner with Children's Healthcare of Atlanta.

I always share that my WMU experience set me up for success and offered me the opportunity to flourish.

Jack KlarrJack Klarr (B.A.’75, History) 

Jack Klarr received a Freshman Recognition Award.

Jack says the scholarship, which covered the costs for most of his textbooks and fees said:

It solidified my conviction that I could & did succeed academically. After law school, I practiced civil trial law for over 40 years. Marrying a girl from Nebraska, we raised two sons, one a physician in training at UChicago, the other a writer at UofM.

Coaching was my passion for over 20 years, baseball & soccer; also volunteer work with Relay For Life- meaningfully as a Cancer Survivor.”

Darlene PonkoDarlene Ponko (B.A.’64, Elementary Education)

Darlene Ponko received a scholarship that helped cover the cost of tuition. She also received the National Defense Loan, which at the time was given due to a shortage of teachers.

Without my tuition scholarship and the National Defense loan, I would have not been able to fulfill my dream of becoming an elementary teacher. With parents having 8th grade educations, they were unable to give me the guidance to apply, but I received that guidance from a high school counselor, Mary Kay. I was not able to thank her as her life ended in an automobile accident my freshman year. When I tell this story, I hope to honor her. Fortunately, I became a resident assistant when Hadley Hall opened in 1962, which paid my room and board.

I taught 30 years in Ludington Area Schools (4th and 5th grades), and if I had my life to live over, I would choose the same career.

After retirement, I took up kayaking, pickleball and travel. I have traveled to 40+ countries and have been on all seven continents. Life is great!!

Thanks, Western!

Jason Taurins (B.M.’15, Music Education)

Jason Taurins received a housing scholarship and a scholarship as concert band manager.

While I had many scholarship awards from WMU, by far my favorite was the $1000/semester I received for my junior year as the Concert Band Manager. I applied and interviewed with the professors who taught the Concert Band (at the time, it was Dr. John Lychner and Dr. David Montgomery).

Aside from the financial benefit of the scholarship, I received experience in what it takes to logistically run a band program. I worked on daily details, including setting up equipment for rehearsals, as well as longer-term concerns like planning with the concerts office and Miller Auditorium to make sure the band had the equipment needed to perform concerts for the public. While these are just some of the details it takes to run a program, and many others contribute to the success of logistical details, I found the experience invaluable. It also helped me prepare to be a student teacher in a band program.

I am currently the Music Teacher at the St. David USD #21 in St. David, AZ. I teach grades 6-12 music, including general music, band, and choir classes. I also compose and arrange professionally, and write marching band shows.

Ronald Helms (BA ’69, Chemistry, Paper Technology)

Ronald Helms received a scholarship from the WMU Paper Technology Foundation, and the Waldo-Sangren Senior Scholarship.

Quite simply, I was able to attend college, obtain an excellent education, which in turn led to great job opportunities. It also allowed me to attend graduate school & obtain an M.S. in Environmental Engineering. Without the scholarship, I would not have been to afford college or enjoy its financial, or personal benefits.

I am retired after a career in the paper industry in various environmental engineering & management positions. I live in the mountains of Colorado, a goal I've had ever since attending graduate school at the University of Colorado.

I had a great college experience at WMU, and I stay in touch with many friends I still know 50 years later. WMU prepared me well for a very rewarding career that allowed me to experience places & people I would not have been able to do without the scholarships.

I am truly grateful to WMU & the Paper Tech foundation for their confidence in me. As financial debt grows for the current generation of students, my appreciation grows.

Sam AntonazzoSam Antonazzo (B.S.’69, Education)

Sam Antonazzo received an athletic scholarship to play football between 1965-69.

This experience changed my life completely. After graduation I was able to secure a teaching job. I was also able to start a coaching career. I was involved in educating young people for 40 years. I married my wife Suzanne, also a Bronco. We are proud of our grown children and their families.

My scholarship gave me an opportunity to be the first in my family to go to college. With this opportunity I was able to be part of WMU’s first league championship. I was able to meet and have lifelong friends and teammates. Most importantly I was able to get my degree.

We are now retired and enjoy traveling and spending time with friends and family. Returning to campus is always fun to see games and meet up with old friends. We are proud to say we are WMU alumni and look back on our times in Kalamazoo as some of our best.

I would like to thank WMU and all of their supporters for giving me a chance to discover things that I now know are so important.

Alison Pierce (B.S.’07, Aviation Flight Science)

Alison Pierce received a diversity scholarship.

I received the Diversity scholarship during my private pilot training. The value was $7,000, which was almost the cost of the course at the time; that amount of money was a nice relief! I took out loans for my flight training and paid my regular tuition each semester with the jobs I held throughout college. I remember being very ecstatic and grateful to the university for rewarding me with a very valuable scholarship. Thank you again!

Aviation is a difficult degree to obtain financially and any scholarship is so valuable financially and mentally.

I currently fly for Steelcase Inc. located in Grand Rapids; flying their corporate aircraft.

Annelise WilpAnnelise Wilp (B.A.’18 Organizational Communication, Spanish)

Annelise Wilp received the President’s Award for Studying Abroad, the College of Arts and Sciences Study Abroad Scholarship, and the School of Communication Study Abroad Scholarship:

Thanks to the scholarships I received at WMU, I was able to study abroad not one, not two, but three times in Peru, Spain, and the Dominican Republic.

I was able to use the money I had saved to travel and make the most out of my time abroad. My semester in Spain was covered completely by scholarships, so not only was I able to use the extra money to travel around Europe, but my family didn’t have to worry about tuition for that semester. That allowed me to enjoy my time abroad even more.

Annelise (pictured while studying abroad in Burgos, Spain, Fall 2016) teaches English in Japan on the JET Program.

Cindy Vogel (B.B.A.’94) 

Cindy Vogel received a Medallion scholarship.

Due to financial reasons, my parents had told me that I would need to stay home and go to a local college my first 1-2 years of college. I really wanted to go away my freshman year, so I set out to find a scholarship. I competed in the Medallion Scholarship program and was awarded the second-level, University Scholarship. This paved the way for me to become a Bronco!

I have worked in the field of Marketing for over 20 years. I am currently the Director of Marketing for a packaging company in the Detroit area.

As a way of giving back, I contribute to the annual fund, directing my donations to the Medallion program. In addition, I have been a WMU Admissions Ambassador for many years and enjoy writing postcards for hopeful Broncos.

Eric Shea Eric Shea (B.M.’85, Music Education)

Eric Shea received a scholarship from the School of Music for jazz studies:

My scholarship provided for half of my tuition. It gave me the opportunity to perform in the University Jazz Orchestra and Gold Company as drummer and percussionist. My scholarship allowed for travel opportunities both in and out of Michigan for various concerts and festivals. The most benefit derived from my music scholarship was the pride that came with knowing my talent and hard work made me worthy of being granted a scholarship from Western Michigan University.

I am a retired public school instrumental music teacher. I continue to perform in multiple ensembles (instrumental AND vocal) and teach private percussion lessons. In addition, I coach a local high school percussion section.

Larry Alferink (B.A.’70, Psychology)

Larry Alferink received a scholarship awarded by the WMU Board of Trustees:

I received a $50 scholarship when I applied to WMU. Following that award in May, my father had a stroke that paralyzed him on the right side of his body and affected his ability to talk. That August he died. WMU increased my award from a nominal amount to an award that covered my tuition each year. Given our financial situation as a result of the stroke, I was able to attend WMU and graduate in four years. I met my wife on campus and we have been married since 1970.

I am retired from the faculty at Illinois State University (effective August, 2008). After retirement, I served a three-year term on the Council of Representatives of the American Psychological Association (APA). I also served as an APA site visitor to review approximately 40 doctoral programs for APA accreditation. I served as President (now Treasurer) for the State Universities Annuitants Association, an organization with approximately 15,000 members. I am currently Chair of the Finance Committee for the Association for Behavior Analysis, International.

Jeanine MeltonJeanine Melton (B.A.’98, Secondary Education-English)

Jeanine Melton received the HEIS (Higher Education Incentive Scholarship) and was a Medallion Scholar:

Tony Dennis and Alveta Gipson at WMU were instrumental in ensuring that I understood the opportunity available to me. I received personal phone calls from them notifying me that I qualified for the scholarship competition. I also was picked up in Detroit by Alveta, transported to Kalamazoo and she arranged for me to stay on campus with another HEIS student. The connection to the Admissions office extended itself beyond the initial scholarship. I participated as a judge for the HEIS competition for several years and even worked within the Admissions office recruiting students, leading tours and making phone calls to potential students.

I currently serve as Assistant Principal of Detroit Mumford High School. To this day I am still in touch with Tony Dennis and Alveta Gipson. Alveta is still recruiting students and often comes to schools in which I have taught or lead. I always will stop by the recruiting session and speak about Alveta and my time at Western Michigan.

Cassandra HibbardCassandra Hibbard (B.M.’07, Music Performance)

Cassandra Hibbard received the Dorothy Upjohn Dalton Scholarship for Woodwind Students:

With this scholarship, I was able to focus on my studies and graduate with honors!

I am the Assistant Professor of Clarinet and Coordinator of Woodwind Studies at Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA.

John Sinkey (B.S.’68, Paper Technology; Chemistry)

John Sinkey received a scholarship for his studies in Paper Technology:

I have always been very grateful to the Paper Science Foundation for the full-ride scholarship I enjoyed. It directed my studies and life-long career into the paper industry, allowing me to get a double major in Paper Science and chemistry, with a math minor. Without it, I would have pursued a general degree in chemistry. It financially allowed me to complete the degree, something which may have been very difficult without it. I have retired from a career as a scientist/engineer in the paper industry, in addition to some years teaching college chemistry.

Joanna AshdownJoanna Ashdown (B.M.’09, Music Therapy)

Joanna Ashdown received a scholarship from the School of Music:

The scholarship required me to continue playing in certain ensembles and private lessons, which I might not have been able to continue otherwise. It helped financially since I was coming in from out of state, and inevitably decreased the amount of student loans required to finish my education. Being part of those musical groups enabled me to gain good friends and go on a trip to tour China.

I worked in the music therapy field for seven years as a board-certified music therapist. I had some wonderful experiences helping clients with developmental disabilities reach a wide variety of goals. I am now a stay at home mom to two wonderful boys and maintaining my credentials with plans to return to the field in the future.

Ed Staron (B.S.’66, Secondary Education)

Ed Staron received an athletic scholarship for baseball. Ed noted that he was the first in his family to graduate from college, which would not have been possible without the scholarship. He played for four years and said it was the best times of his early life, where he developed many lifelong friendships. After WMU, Ed was drafted by the Detroit Tigers in 1965 and 1966, and then went on to teach for 40 years.